More noise than signal

The Limey

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Terence Stamp’s Wilson, a walking caricature of an East End gangster is released from a stretch at Her Majesties pleasure and immediately hops on a plane to L.A. to investigate the death of his daughter, Jenny (Melissa George). It’s been ruled an accidental death in a car crash, but Wilson thinks foul play is afoot.

Given the lay of the land by two of Jenny’s friends, Eduardo (Luis Guzman) and Elaine (Lesley Ann Warren), both of whom pass Wilson’s instinct based lie-detector test, his suspicion falls on the suspiciously named Terry Valentine (Peter Fonda), suspicious record producer and suspiciously Jenny’s ex-boyfriend.

Rightly so, as it happens, as we find out over the course of the piece that Valentine has links to drug trafficking, with Wilson pulling on these threads, and violently working his way through the lower level goons as he searches for some proof of Valentine’s guilt. The police seem to view this as an opportunity to rid themselves of some criminals and stay on the sidelines, so Valentine’s head of security Avery (Barry Newman) hires a hitman, Stacy (Nicky Katt) to take care of Wilson, all this leading to an appropriately bloody resolution.

I like The Limey a lot more than I’ll be able to adequately explain, but I suppose I ought to give it a shot. It’s a strange film on a few levels, and it’s a credit to all involved that it hangs together this well.

To whit, narratively, there’s not a great deal to the film, and the driving force of the story is pretty bare bones. Sometimes it feels like if you took out most of the scenes that are, at heart, a reason to have Americans confused by cockney rhyming slang, this film would be half an hour long. Even so, had this been approached conventionally by the recently de-retired Steven Soderbergh, well, there’s enough talent in front of the camera that I’m sure it would be watchable but unremarkable.

However, it’s far from conventional, and is surely the most melancholic, wistful roaring rampages of revenge committed to film. With frequent cuts to footage from one of Stamp’s earliest films, along with his regretful narrative and an editing style that’s purposefully disorienting your sense of time and, to a lesser degree, place, it’s bringing to the fore a character who’s spending some time taking stock of his life.

Which contrasts quite sharply to the bulk to the rest of the film, where Wilson’s has a clarity of purpose and a drive that’s quite something to behold. It may well be Stamp’s finest hour, inhabiting a powerful character that’s much more empathetic and engaging than the stock character he may appear to be on first glance. Stamp may forever be remembered as General Zod, but Wilson’s more deserving of the honour.

There’s almost as interesting a character on the other side of the coin, with Peter Fonda’s dawning realisation that he has gone from “in over his head” to “in immediate existential danger” over the piece being a joy to watch. It’s a nice inversion, with Wilson being out of his comfort zone geographically, but well versed in the work at hand, and Valentine being quite the opposite.

The rest of the supporting cast do well, particularly Guzmán and Warren, but it’s hard not to be overshadowed by Stamp given that the spotlight is, rightly, on him for the bulk of the film. It’s in the title, after all.

I suppose, in the final analysis, I like The Limey because it’s a thriller that’s taking a very different, possibly unique, approach to the way it tells its story – different enough to be interesting while familiar enough to maintain the genre’s appeal. It’s a mystery to me why this didn’t go over with the mass market on release – I suppose it was perceived as too arty, but it very much isn’t. If, somehow, you’ve missed this, it’s worth putting pretty high up on your watch list.